National unity government talks slated to begin 'very soon' [April 14 - April 20]
Following a PLO Executive Committee meeting on April 18, President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would launch talks "in the near future" to form a new cabinet. The announcement came after the resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on April 13.
"We will hold consultations in the near future to form a government," said Abbas, according to a statement issued after the meeting. Later in the week, Fatah leader Azzam al-Ahmad said the president must also set a date for elections.
Such a move, of course would require the completion of the long overdue reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah. On April 19, Hamas leaders met in Qatar to discuss this subject in particular.
Newly re-elected Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal chaired the meeting, which was also attended by Hamas leaders from Gaza including de facto prime minister Ismail Haniyeh. An unnamed source said the meeting began on Thursday and would run through until today.
The source said Hamas leaders would discuss "Palestinian reconciliation, developments in the Palestinian arena following Fayyad's resignation, as well as ways of pressing Israel to release Palestinian prisoners," the official said.
Fayyad, who will remain in the position of caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed, called on April 17, in his first public comments since his resignation, for a general election to rebuild the political system.
The Palestinians "need ... a general election, as the only way to rebuild our political system and achieve our national goals," he said in his weekly radio address. "Just as there is no state without Jerusalem as its eternal capital, there is no state without the Gaza Strip, a part that cannot be partitioned from it," Fayyad said.
He added that his departure did not mean he would no longer "defend our people's case and their fundamental rights of freedom and dignity."
Also on April 17, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that time was running out to reach a Middle East peace deal, saying there could “only be a year or two left.”
Speaking to the House foreign affairs committee, Kerry said the Obama administration was "trying to find out what is possible."
He stressed he had no plan so far to lay out before Congress "because we're in the process of working that out with the critical parties."
"But I can guarantee you that I am committed to this, because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting. I think we have some period of time -- a year to year-and-a-half to two years -- or it's over," Kerry warned.
Peace seemed a long way off on the ground in Palestine. April 17 marked Palestinian Prisoners’ Day as hunger striker Samer Issawi continues to fight back death in his hospital bed inside Israel. Issawi has been offered a number of deals by Israel including deportation to Gaza, to outside the country and to serve out a five year sentence, all of which Issawi has refused.
On the occasion of Prisoners Day, Issawi called for "rage and solidarity".
"Greetings to all without exception. I urge all the noble people of our Arab and Muslim nation as well as the free people of the world to turn April 17, 2013 into a day of rage and solidarity with Palestinian prisoners all over the world," Issawi wrote in a letter sent through his lawyer.
"The voice of those heroes who have sacrificed and are still making sacrifices for the sake of the freedom of their people and land, and in defense for Muslim and Christian holy places in the holiest spot on the globe, should be heard."
Issawi also said no negotiations should be held with Israel until all Palestinians political prisoners were released. "All prisoners must be released before conducting any negotiations with the occupation regardless of how fruitful these negotiations could be." Issawi says he will continue his strike until he is released and returns to his hometown of Essawiyeh in Jerusalem.
Nine Palestinian prisoners declared an open hunger strike on the same day in solidarity with Issawi.
Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine detainees said they would end their strike upon Issawi's release to east Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, prisoner Mohammed Al Taj was given an early release due to his failing health on April 18. Al Taj was held at the Ramleh Prison Clinic, a place he described from his hospital bed in Ramallah’s Palestine Medical Center as “a graveyard for prisoners.” Al Taj suffers from pulmonary fibrosis and heart hypertrophy. His family has appealed to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment where they hope he may receive a lung transplant.
On April 19, Israeli settlers took over a monastery in the West Bank village of Al Taybeh near Ramallah, raising an Israeli flag over it. According to Priest Aziz Raei, the settlers used force to occupy the monastery and its adjacent chapel before raising the flag.
A day later, on the 18th Israeli forces demolished a store belonging to orphans from the Jirjawi family in Wadi al-Niam, a Bedouin village in the Negev.
"The demolition is immoral and unjustifiable. How can a state which claims to be an oasis of democracy and equality explain demolition of orphans' homes and means of living?" said Labbad Abu Affash, head of the village committee.
In other news, also on April 18, Israel refused permission for 26 runners from the Gaza Strip to travel to the West Bank to run in the first Bethlehem marathon on April 21. Organizers say the race is the first event of its kind with more than 400 people registered to run, half of whom are Palestinians.
"The request of 26 Gaza residents to take part in the Bethlehem marathon was examined by the relevant authorities and it was decided to reject the request because it does not fall within the determined criteria for crossing from Gaza to the West Bank," a COGAT [Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] statement said.
Israel celebrated its Memorial and Independence Days this week. As Israelis waved flags and barbequed outdoors, thousands of Palestinians inside the Green Line participated in the March of Return on April 16 towards the demolished village of Khubeiza. The participants waved Palestinian flags and demanded the right of return for Palestinian refugees displaced in the 1948 war.
Four rockets were shot into Israel this week. On April 19, two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip and hit southern Israel without causing casualties or damages. On April 17, two other rockets were shot into the coastal city of Eilat, this time from the Sinai Peninsula.
On a positive note, on April 19, 13 EU member states, including Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands, announced they would label products imported from Israeli West Bank settlements.
Also, on April 17, the Israeli army began dismantling the fence around the settlement of Ofra after High Court decision ordered the action. In September 2010, a case was made by a resident of village of Ein Yabrud turned to the Court, saying the fence was built on his private land and prevented him from reaching some of his fields. The court had ordered the army to dismantle the fence by the end of 2012.
On April 15, President Abbas inaugurated the Palestinian embassy in Kuwait following a 22-year break in relations. The two countries resumed diplomatic ties after a long hiatus following late President Yasser Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the first Gulf War.
Finally, on April 14. Israel announced it would extend the ban on family reunification between Israeli citizens and citizens of the Palestinian territories or “enemy states” for another year. The law prevents families of mixed citizenships to live together inside Israel.